Obituary: Sandy Stewart, stalwart of the Scottish beef industry

Sandy Stewart, farmer. Born: 1927 in Causewayfold, Wartle. Died: 30 October, 2021 aged 94

Sandy Stewart was a well-known figure at marts throughout the north and north-east

With the recent passing at the age of 94 of Sandy Stewart of Gunhill, Inverurie, the North-east has lost a stalwart of the beef industry and a well-loved and respected member of his local farming community.

In his heyday, he was a well-known figure at marts throughout the north and north-east, particularly Inverness, Dingwall and Thurso, where he was a regular buyer of store cattle for many Aberdeenshire farmers as well as for his own farm. Until fairly recent times, he attended the weekly mart at Thainstone where he enjoyed meeting up with farming friends of his own generation in a group affectionately known as the “House of Lords” who meet each week at the mart for lunch.

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In 2006, he fulfilled a life-long ambition with 20 farming friends to visit Argentina, attending the famous Palermo Show and undertaking an arduous two-week tour visiting Aberdeen-Angus herds in Buenos Aires province. Even at the age of 79, he demonstrated a prodigious capacity for steak consumption, such was the quality of the steaks put before him at every meal.

He went to Argentina determined to prove his belief that Argentinian beef was inferior to Scotch beef but came home readily conceding that the beef he enjoyed in the country was actually “quite good”.

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Sandy was born at Causewayfold, Wartle, in 1927, the second of nine siblings, and moved to Gunhill in 1929. He attended Daviot school, leaving at the age of 14 to start working on the farm, ploughing with horses and feeding cattle in a tied byre. One of his earliest recollections was the Inverurie to Rothienorman road being tarred for the first time.

He was of a generation which saw massive changes in how the world works. Although too young to be involved in the horrors of World War II, he was a member of the Air Training Corps and went on regular trips and camps to RAF Lossiemouth and recalled the excitement of being in the bomb aimer’s capsule in a Lancaster bomber on training runs.

At the age of 17, he was sent to Yorkshire to gain a wider experience of farming with the Watt family who were of Scottish descent and farmed near Driffield next to an RAF base. An abiding memory was the bravery of pilots “nursing shot-up bombers safely home” from raids on the continent as they crossed the farm returning to base.

He also enjoyed socialising with Italian prisoners-of-war working on local farms who congregated on a Saturday night for a meal consisting of “whatever had been caught, shot or stolen” during the week. He recalled a particularly nice meal of pasta and asked what the meat was. The cook informed him in broken English that it was like a small pig with spikes. In other words, a hedgehog!

Back home to help his father, he soon started going north to buy calves which were shipped by train to Inverurie to supply local farmers. He went on to spend a large part of his life, continuing until well past retirement age, sourcing store cattle for local farmers from marts in the north which were delivered by train and walked to Gunhill or direct to other local farms.

He was held in very high esteem due to his fair and honest conduct in these dealings and made great friends with others in the same business at the time, the late Alex Grant of Middlefield, Forres, and the late Gordon Wishart of Saphock, Oldmeldrum, being particular friends.

Later, following the building of a new abattoir in Inverurie by the FMC-owned Inverurie Scotch Meat, he enjoyed sourcing finished cattle for ISM at Insch and Inverurie marts and also direct from local farms.

At home, he was a progressive farmer keeping up with machinery trends and expanding the farming business at Gunhill when opportunities arose.

Young farmers played a big part in his youth as a member of the Inverurie club where he became chairman and excelled in speechmaking, stockjudging and sheep shearing.

In 1951, with lifelong friends, the late George Ritch of East Fingask, Inverurie, and the late George Shepherd, of Corsehill, Bucksburn, he was a member of the Inverurie team which won the stockjudging competition at the Scottish National Fatstock Show in Edinburgh. The following year he won the best individual award in the young farmers’ national stockjudging competition.

Also in 1951, he was one of four young farmers from Scotland selected for a six-month international exchange visit to the USA. One of the others was Kathleen (Kate) Scott from the Borders whom he went on to marry a year later. The group travelled on a cargo ship to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Sandy used to joke that it was at the blunt end of the ship that Kathleen captured him!

He had great stories from his six months in America where he spent time on farms in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the north and also in Ohio. Much of his time was spent on horseback living the life of a real cowboy, eating steak and fried eggs for breakfast.

He was obviously smitten by Kate, who was in Kentucky and Montana, and devised all sorts of ploys to visit her, turning up in style on one occasion “quite the lad” after borrowing his host family’s Cadilac.

Sandy and Kathleen went on to travel every year to a different European country as part of the International Farm Youth Exchange scheme for former exchangees which they greatly enjoyed. Sandy made a point of immersing himself in the culture of the country to be visited each year, listening to the relevant language audio in the car when travelling to cattle sales so he could converse with his hosts in their own language.

Away from farming, he was a founder member of the Daviot and Oldmeldrum Curling Club, who had an outdoor rink beside Moonie Castle. He used to recall with amusement his concern when seeing his father, along with the local blacksmith, Mr Booth from Daviot Smiddy, and Ian Strachan from Balquhain, Chapel of Garioch, each about 20 stone (130kg) in weight, walking across the ice. The ice held up.

A lifelong passion was shooting. An excellent shot, he was for many years shoot captain at Straloch Estate, Newmachar, which was a role he really enjoyed.

He was also a founder member of Garioch Rugby Club, running the bar, aptly named Sandy’s bar, for many years, latterly becoming Honorary President of the club. He particularly enjoyed seeing the progress and development of youth as they matured in to adults, often with some sage advice from Sandy.

Always very sociable, he tended to ignore medical advice to limit consumption of alcohol, salt and red meat and freely admitted to having had more than his fair share of all three!

He was also an elder at Daviot Kirk for 30 years and latterly treasurer.

Mr Stewart is survived by his wife, three sons, Alex, Tom and Jim and their families. Grandchildren, Penny, Sasha and Amy, were his pride and joy.

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